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Articles and Stories by Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Three-hour Tour Turns Unforgettable

Meadows resident Sonia Fuentes got more than she bargained for when she went with the Flanzer Jewish Community Center to visit the Thomas Edison and Henry estates in Ft. Myers.

 It took three buses to get the Flanzer JCC tour members home following a trip to Ft. Myers.

(This article, by Fuentes, recalling the saga of her trip to the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford estates in Ft. Myers, FL, appeared in The East County Observer, a newspaper in East Manatee and Sarasota Counties, Florida, January 16, 2003.)

This is the saga of my Dec. 23, 2002, trip to the Thomas Edison and Henry estates in Ft. Myers.

I had heard of these estates during the years I've lived in Sarasota and have long wanted to go.  Therefore, I was delighted when I learned that the East County's Flanzer Jewish Community Center was planning such a trip by bus, and I signed up.

Twelve of us boarded a bus from Flanzer bounded for Ft. Myers that morning.  Little did we know the most memorable part of the trip would have nothing to do with the estates.

We arrived at the estates at 11:30 a.m. I stopped off and bought some gifts at the museum shop, and then we had lunch on the Edison estate.  The weather was delightful -- about 75 degrees.

At 12:30 p.m., we began our tour.  We had an excellent tour of the two houses on the estate and Edison's laboratory before leaving several hours later.  That's when the adventure began.

Stranded

We had driven about one-and-one-half miles when Sarah, our bus driver, pulled to the side of the road.  Something was wrong with the bus, and she could not control the steering wheel.  We all got off the bus and found ourselves stranded on a residential street in Ft. Myers.

Shortly thereafter, a car with two policemen drove up after seeing us on the street and one of the policemen spoke to the JCC's Audra Martin, who was in charge of the trip.  Audra then made a number of calls on her cell phone.  She called Dan Bernstein, the JCC's executive director, the police and a tow truck.  Another bus would be coming to pick us up from Sarasota, but we'd be stranded until then.  Sarah remarked that we were lucky we weren't stranded on I-75.

We stood on the street, some of us took a walk up and down the street, and then Sarah reconnoitered and found that a restaurant was nearby.  We took our things off the bus and walked a few blocks to the Brixz Bistro.  Few of us were hungry, but after realizing we would be stranded for a few hours, we all felt we could use a drink.

It was about 6 p.. when the second bus came for us.  By this time, the group had bonded.  We were in high spirits and sang one song after another.  However, the sin-a-longs ended less than an hour later when I heard a loud noise that sounded like a tire blowout.  Audra told the bus driver to pull over to the side of the road and the passengers to get off the bus.

We saw smoke coming out of the engine and later learned from a policeman a radiator hose had burst.  Now we were stranded on I-75.  The first bus had flares, but we hadn't needed them because it was daylight.  Now it was dark, we were at the side of the highway, and this bus had no flares.  Audra again was busy on her cell phone, calling Bernstein, the police and a tow truck.

The rest of us stood around on the grassy side of the highway searching for the Big Dipper and trying to calculate what the odds were that two buses taking us from Ft. Myers to Sarasota would both break down.

I realized I had left my camera behind somewhere.  One of my fellow passengers recalled handing it to me at the Brixz Bistro and Audra phoned Bernstein and asked him to call Brixz.  Brixz employees, however, were unable to find it.

After our arrival at the Flanzer JCC, I called Brixz again and they still hadn't found it.  I tried one more time, the following morning, and Brixz had my camera and kindly agreed to send it to me.

Cavalry

We then waited again for the police, a tow truck and another bus.  It took 15 to 20 minutes before a police car came and then not one but several cars with policemen arrived.  They left their cars behind the bus flashing their lights so traffic on I-75 could see the bus.

Shortly thereafter, the third bus came.  We piled into the third bus with our things.  This driver introduced himself as Harry and told us he worked for the Jewish Federation in Ft. Myers.  He had been home preparing dinner when he received a call about our breakdown.  He left his dinner and dashed to a bus he wanted to take as it was in a location that was about to be locked down.  He got there in time and picked us up.  Everyone remained in good spirits, and we finally arrived back at the Flanzer JCC at 8:35 p.m. My seatmate, Marilyn, said, "We may not remember the Edison-Ford estates, but we'll never forget this trip."